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Vocalist and bandleader with a difference

Profile: Angel Canales: El Diferente

by Felipito Palacios

He was know as "El Diferente" at a time when mainstream popular culture was embracing all manner of picturesque characters representative of the individual and societal rebellions of the moment. But Angel Canales was an artist in the Latin/salsa industry which had always been resistant to drastic change. As a bandleader and stage personality he did not fit into any of the generally accepted archetypal personae for fronting a Latin/salsa orchestra. Bandleaders and singers were either suave, worldly, patrician, connoisseurs of taste or they were bad boys or lovers. The zany and unpredictable yet self-assured Canales was an anomaly; zany and unpredictable was usually expressed in the context of self deprecating foolishness and Angel Canales was nobody's fool. Nor was he a countercultural revolutionary although a staunchly conservative industry perceived him as such and the result was the same. His music was infrequently played on commercial air and the lack of exposure ultimately affected his ability to secure work for the orchestra and he gradually distanced himself from the industry, concentrating instead on outside business interests. In 1990, a disenchanted and disillusioned Angel Canales tossed the arrangements for his music into the surf at Jones Beach, symbolically ending his musical career, and moved his family to Miami where he established a thriving diamond cutting business.

Angel was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico and moved with his family to the East New York section of Brooklyn at the age of 10. He listened to the music of Cortijo y su Combo and was influenced by the singer who would inspire many young vocalists, Ismael Rivera. He was an aspiring timbalero with a Brooklyn based group led by guitarist Luis Torres when he joined the Ray Jay Orchestra after filling in for their vocalist one evening. He moved to the group led by ex-Willie Colon pianist, Mark Dimond, which would eventually become Angel Canales and Sabor, with many of the same musicians who would accompany him throughout the life of the band. Their first album, Brujeria, reflected primarily the musical sensibilities of pianist bandleader Mark Dimond with its mid-tempo swing and dissonant melodic structures although certain Canales vocal characteristics such as the staccato syllabic separation were evident.

With pianist Dimond's departure, the group became Angel Canales and Sabor and recorded the album Sabor con Angel Canales which included many of the numbers which would become his signature, such as "Sabor Los Rumberos Nuevos," "Perico Macaona" and the piece which would become a species of anthem to Puerto Rican salseros in the diaspora, "Lejos de Ti," Angel was hot and yet he still received minimal airplay. He recorded his next album for TR records and later formed his own record company, Selenac, reversing the letters of his name for the company identification. His recordings all featured the characteristic Canales swing, with the two trumpet, two trombone and baritone horn section that regularly allowed generous improvisational space on uptempo mambos and moñas. And Angel's visual innovations, the pre-youth culture appropriated athlete inspired clean shaved head and the jeans and boots or shiny jumpsuits generated commotion at his live performances. But the incongruity of his visibility at the clubs and his absence on the airwaves took its toll. The band's work decreased. His reluctance to mitigate the band's swing in the face of the burgeoning popularity of the romantico movement also affected his viability. When the work dwindled to a trickle, Angel finally called it quits and devoted his time to his business interests and moved to Miami.

In 1993, Angel reunited with his former timbalero Victor Perez in Miami and began a comeback. He recently toured South America and at a recent engagement at Club Broadway, he recreated the swing and the excitement that defined him for so many years. As he prepares for a European swing that will include performances in Germany and Spain, one can only wonder if the salsa world is ready for a second coming of Angel Canales y su Sabor.

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